a private space disclosed
He drew hundreds of women
in studies unfolding
Teahouse waitresses, actresses,
geishas, courtesans and maids.
They arranged themselves
before this quick, nimble man
whose invisible presence
one feels in these prints
is as delicate
as the skinlike paper
he used to transfer
and retain their fleeting loveliness.
Crouching like cats,
they purred amid the layers of kimono
swirling around them
as though they were bathing
in a mountain pool with irises
growing in the silken sunlit water.
Or poised like porcelain vases,
slender, erect and tall; their heavy
brocaded hair was piled high
with sandalwood combs and blossom sprigs
poking out like antennae.
They resembled beautiful iridescent insects,
creatures from a floating world.
Utamaro absorbed these women of Edo
in their moments of melancholy
as well as of beauty.
the half- draped body
emerging from a bath; whatever
skin was exposed
was powdered white as snow.
A private space disclosed.
Portraying another girl
catching a glimpse of her own vulnerable
face in the mirror, he transposed
the trembling plum lips
like a drop of blood
soaking up the white expanse of paper.
eye, the women drifted
through the soft gray feathered light,
maintaining stillness, the moments in between.
Like the dusty ash-winged moths
that cling to the screens in summer
and that the Japanese venerate
as ancestors reincarnated;
Utamaro graced these women with immortality
in the thousand sheaves of prints
fluttering into the reverent hands of keepers:
the dwarfed and bespectacled painter
holding up to a square of sunlight
what he had carried home beneath his coat
one afternoon in winter.
from Picture Bride by Cathy Song.
Copyright © 1983 by Yale University Press.
Ohio, Melbourne, Ontario, Philadelphia, Maine, Oregon, Tokyo, & Wisconsin! (okay, okay. i know some of them have just passed and some are in the fall but give me a break.)
and to respond to cathy song's poem, i too question who was happy, who was sad. as does this movie:
for the true tales of a wearer of kimono, see this blog.